Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Native Americans at higher risk from H1N1 swine flu, report warns

President Obama’s advisory council led by the nations’ leading scientists and engineers released a report assessing preparations for H1N1 Influenza A. The report outlined steps to implement nationwide to curtail a serious H1N1 outbreak.

It said that while the precise impact of the resurgence of H1N1 infection is impossible to predict, a plausible scenario is that it could produce infection in 30 to 50 percent of the U.S. population this fall and winter.

And it said that certain populations including Native American groups are considered high risk, with elevated risks of severe outcomes.

The report said it is unlikely that the 2009-H1N1 pandemic will reach the same deadly proportions as happened in the 1918-1920 Spanish flu, also an H1N1 swine flu, but that the outbreak of 2009-H1N1 will be more dangerous than the 1976 swine flu outbreak.

The seriousness of H1N1 is not due to it’s severity but rather the fact that people have no immunity to the virus. The report indicates the possibility that overwhelming numbers of people could become infected, and that mortality could reach 30,000 to 90,000.

Dr. James Cheek, director of the Indian Health Service Division of Epidemiology and Disease Prevention said the IHS is doing much the same as are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like identifying which people are at risk.

"We’ve been in the field the last month and a half, spending a lot of time with the over 200 hospitalized cases among Native Americans in Arizona," Cheek said. "They’re confirmed respiratory disease cases though not 100 percent confirmed H1N1 cases. We’re testing the blood of those who have recovered to see if it was H1N1. " He said the IHS hasn't received additional funding to fight H1N1.

Federal health officials recently announced $350 million in national grants to fight H1N1, but that money is going to states and hospitals, not to the federally recognized tribes, prompting the National Indian Health Board to cite this policy as making reservation communities increasingly vulnerable to epidemics.

An internal document produced by the CDC says a disadvantage of the Public Health Emergency Response grant is that it doesn’t allow enough time for local and tribal concurrence, but instead uses alternative strong language that asks that most or a significant amount of funding should go to local and tribal efforts.

This grant is a little different in that by using the states as a conduit the money is available very fast for communities to use, CDC spokesman Von Roebuck said. “We’re trying to work within the system, and we’re definitely running against the clock.”

Roebuck said the CDC has asked the state health departments to reach out to all local and tribal communities to provide them information about how this funding could be used, and asks that tribal governments provide the states information as to how they could use that funding and why they deserve the highest priority.

“As we learn more about the virus we’ll continue to reach out based on the science into where we feel that it is going to get the most information out to populations,” Roebuck said. “Protecting as many folks and as many locations is definitely our goal.”

Cheek said the IHS as a great record of providing vaccinations, and that their vaccination machine "is geared up to deliver the new H1N1 vaccine to all our populations the minute we get them."